Kettering University professor examining how green tea may prevent cardiovascular disease

Chemistry faculty members Dr. Montserrat Rabago-Smith, Dr. Lihua Wang and Dr. Veronica Moorman are researching how the presence of catechins may provide preventative benefits for cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Scientific literature and popular science agree - green teas’ antioxidant properties make it important for disease prevention. Scientists have isolated the benefit to an abundance of polyphenolic compounds, also known as catechins, including epicatechin (EC), epigallocatechin (EGC), epicatechin gallate (EGC) and epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG).

Organic chemistry faculty member Dr. Montserrat Rabago-Smith, inorganic chemistry faculty member Dr. Lihua Wang and biochemistry faculty member Dr. Veronica Moorman at Kettering University are taking the next step to determine exactly how the presence of catechins may provide preventative benefits for cancer and cardiovascular disease.

“We believe the interactions between catechins and Cytochrome c have a role in protecting individuals from cardiovascular disease,” Rabago-Smith said.  

Cytochrome c is a protein involved in the generation of usable energy for cells (ATP). However, if a cell becomes unhealthy and targets itself for apoptosis or self-destruction, Cytochrome c is released and triggers the chain reaction that ultimately leads to its demise. So if an individual is having a heart attack, an abundance of Cytochomre c is released.

“The cells actually self-destruct in a very quick manner so the Cytochrome c is released outside of the cell,” Robago-Smith said.

Catechins, a group of organic molecules found in green tea, spinach and other leafy green vegetables, appear to have the ability to bind with Cytochrome c.

“We have some data that shows that these two (catechins and Cytochrome c) are having an interaction,” Robago-Smith said. “Our research is about understanding this interaction.”

Specifically, Robago-Smith hypothesizes that the phenyl groups on the catechins are necessary for binding with Cytochrome c. She’s currently researching the exact nature of the binding. Robago-Smith’s research will be enhanced by Kettering’s recent National Science Foundation - Major Research Instrument grant that allowed for the acquisition of an isothermal titration calorimeter (ITC).

From a thermodynamics perspective, the energetics  of molecular interactions consist of entropic (disorder) and enthalpic (heat released or absorbed) components which can be deconvoluted using an ITC. Robago-Smith will be able to learn more about the interaction between catechins and Cytochrome c by developing a better understanding of the binding energetics between these two molecules.

“The ultimate goal will be to develop drugs for cardiovascular diseases that utilize the knowledge from these upcoming studies,” Robago-Smith said. “It’s about both prevention and treatment.”